Plastic Found in Human Waste

Ashley Kim ’19

On October 23rd, several news sources reported an unsettling new discovery: microplastics in human waste. Accumulation of microplastics inside human digestive systems could have detrimental effects on humans by degrading the immune system within the digestive system or enhancing the permeability of toxic chemicals. This discovery marks the first time the researchers have found in human waste. While there has not been any specific research on its influence yet, the detection of plastics in human organs is a worrying a sign of the plastic pollution pervading the food chain. As a result, it has sparked an increased sense of urgency to stop plastic pollution.

According to the report by The Guardian, the samples collected from the eight participants across Europe, Japan, and Russia all contained at least two or three varieties of microplastics. “Up to nine different plastics were found out of 10 varieties tested for, in particles of sizes ranging from 50 to 500 micrometres,” The Guardian reported. The researchers predicted that the micropieces of plastics are widespread across the human digestive system and hypothesized that more than fifty percent of the world population might have microplastics in their waste, although more research with bigger sample sizes are needed for confirmation.

In the past, microplastics have been found in tap water, the ocean, fish guts, flying insects, and even in soft drinks. Now that microplastic are known to also be in humans, the researchers are focusing on the impact of microplastics on human health. “The smallest microplastic particles are capable of entering the bloodstream, the lymphatic system, and may even reach the liver,” said Philipp Schwabl, a researcher at the Medical University of Vienna who led the study, in the interview with The Guardian.

The direct route of microplastics to human guts still remains unknown. All the participants of the research have had frequent exposure to plastics, such as consuming food that was wrapped in plastic or drinking out of a plastic bottle. Six out of the eight participants ate sea fish in the past. The researchers say that perhaps microplastics slowly cumulate inside the human body as one directly and indirectly consumes plastic in daily life.

According to the World Economic Forum’s estimation, more plastic than total fish could  occupy the ocean by 2050. Plastic pollution is becoming an increasingly exigent issue in the modern era, and it is critical for every individual to contribute in plastic ban movements or, if possible, extinguish plastic pollution.